Dems Twist "Will of Voters" to Own Ends
by Ari Armstrong
Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald and Rep. Jennifer Veiga want to have the "will of the voters" and eat it, too.
In a February 15 column in the Rocky Mountain News, the two Democrats decry Republican efforts to modify the results of four initiatives pertaining to gunshows, education funding, campaign finance, and bilingual education. They challenge Republicans to "honor and abide by the will of the voters."
Yet these same legislators are perfectly willing to reverse popular initiatives when it suits them.
When I called Sen. Fitz-Gerald and asked her if she supported the overturning of Amendment 2, the 1992 initiative pertaining to gay rights, she said, "I didn't vote for it." Okay, but did she support the court's decision to overturn it? "I think it was unconstitutional, if that's what you're asking."
That obviously wasn't what I was asking, but I think her answer suffices to make the point: Democrats don't care so much about the so-called "will of the voters" when it contradicts their own political beliefs (and that can be a good thing).
Another popularly passed initiative conspicuously absent from the analysis of Fitz-Gerald and Veiga is the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). Democrats are so respectful of this one, they use its author's name as an epithet. Repealing parts of TABOR is "one of the things we're going to be talking about," Fitz-Gerald told me, though of course any change will go up for popular vote (since TABOR is in the Constitution).
Well, Republicans are also "talking about" letting the voters decide whether to repeal parts of Amendment 23, which put K-12 spending increases on autopilot.
True, Republicans are looking to slightly modify the gunshow initiative, ease restrictions on campaign finance, and move toward English immersion. But this does not indicate these Republicans are ignoring the "will of the voters."
Fitz-Gerald and Veiga are pulling the old "bait and switch." Supporters of the gunshow initiative openly argued any problems with the bill could be modified later by the legislature -- that's one reason they opted to change the statutes rather than the Constitution. Now suddenly even minor improvements to correct ambiguities surrounding the definition of a "gun show" are somehow in violation of what the voters wanted.
Similarly, one prominent argument against the English immersion initiative was that it is overly punitive. Indeed, the "No on Amendment 31" web page states, "English Plus... believe[s] strongly that all children in Colorado should become proficient in English as quickly as possible. But, Amendment 31 was not the answer! Amendment 31 would have been costly, ineffective, and misleading."
But miraculously Fitz-Gerald and Veiga are able to read the minds of every voter in Colorado and determine what their "will" was. Even though the opponents of Amendment 31 argued against it based on cost and wording, now the Democrats "know" the voters really supported the Democratic platform all along! Neat trick.
Fitz-Gerald and Veiga seem to be missing another obvious point: state legislators are also elected by popular vote. Why is it that an initiative manifests the "will of the voters," but legislative races do not?
Ray Rose, for instance, won his seat with 52.28% of the vote in 2002. The county where he lives, Montrose, voted against Amendment 22 by 56%. So now that Rose wants to improve the language of that gunshow initiative, isn't he following the "will of the voters?" (Strangely, Fitz-Gerald and Veiga seem to have no problem imposing their favored laws on the voters in the third of Colorado's counties that opposed Amendment 22.)
Fitz-Gerald and Veiga close, "[Republicans] took an oath to uphold the constitution, not destroy it. Coloradans should expect nothing less." That's a strange way to end an article purportedly about the "will of the voters."
The state's constitution provides for legislative elections as well as for the initiative process. Thus, Fitz-Gerald and Veiga aren't really supporting the "will of the voters," they're claiming only those actions that agree with their beliefs should be construed as reflecting that will.
The state's Constitution, though, also establishes a Bill of Rights. Some things, as Fitz-Gerald intimated on the phone, are off-limits both for the legislature and for initiatives. The Constitution states, "All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."
Thus, the Constitution itself points to the proper standard of all law: individual rights. Further, these rights precede government and are "inalienable." The so-called "will of the voters" is expressly not sufficient to justify any law. Let us not forget that popular sentiments once supported slavery, lynchings, and the slaughter of Native Americans in this country.
A good case can be made that campaign restrictions violate Colorado's constitution, which says "every person shall be free to speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject..." Further, I believe Amendment 22 violates the provision which states, "The right of no person to keep and bear arms... shall be called in question."
Fitz-Gerald and Veiga err when they suggest recent legislative proposals somehow violate the "will of the voters." They also err when they suggest popular sentiment is the proper standard by which to evaluate law.